Aislinn Hunter worked at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in the Creative Writing Department at the time, not sure where now or if the same, but this was interesting as I do not do a lot of creative writing. Here is part 2.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Most recently, you have worked on your PhD at the University of Edinburgh. What is the basis of it?
Hunter: I’m looking at resonance and beloved objects in Victorian culture, and asking why certain objects appear again and again in Victorian writers’ museum collections. It’s ‘thing theory’ so to speak (I’m asserting that certain ‘things’ are more fit for the task of acting as remembrancers than others) with a narrative through-line in that I am also looking at how, in life-writing and literature, we tend to describe the way an object presences the absent beloved for us. It’s quite a fascinating topic and intersects with some of the themes in my new novel.
Jacobsen: Since you began in writing, what do you consider the controversial books or poems? Why do you consider them controversial?
Hunter: I had to think a lot about this question because I don’t think I’m considered controversial at all (in relation to my work in the Canadian literary landscape). I am quite an earnest writer, a meliorist, and that effects, I suppose, how much I’m willing to discombobulate or challenge the reader. That said I think that there’s a slightly controversial position hovering thematically under a lot of my work (academic and literary) – ideas around how we humans presume too much agency for ourselves when things and events are actively shaping us all the time. I’m also interested in extended mind theory and in how we cognize the world through limiting ontologies (i.e. the depth ontology in Western culture where we forefront the concept of the ‘inner being’). The most deliberately provocative work I’ve done has been in the essay form. I wrote a piece on why writers shouldn’t do reviews for The Quill and Quire (an unpopular position) and a piece on the impossibility of competition amongst poets for Arc Magazine.
Jacobsen: How do you describe your philosophical understanding of the art of Creative Writing?
Hunter: I once said to a second-year creative writing class at The University of Victoria that “to be a writer one needs to procure wisdom, knowledge or wonder.” I said it wanting to be challenged but no one so much as raised an eyebrow or a hand.
Jacobsen: How has it changed?
Hunter: Well, given that I sort of believed what I said to that class a decade ago (though I remain open to revision) I’d have to say that my understanding of what is required of a writer or ‘writing’ hasn’t changed: I believe you need something of use to say, or an ability to create a sense of wonder in another, and craft in order to do so in a way that locates and dislocates the reader simultaneously, adds to what they had when they entered into the conversation with your work. But the literary landscape has changed significantly in the last few years, in part because what’s valued drives the market. Information is highly valued now (the kind of ‘information’ that’s arguably different from wisdom or knowledge) as is escapism, and so there’s a commerce in that; digestibility matters too, and that means that what gets written and what sells, what is ‘successful’ changes. I still tend to differentiate between classes of literature which is probably an old-fashioned thing to do in the age of the blog-turned-film-turned-novel.
Jacobsen: What advice do you have for undergraduate and graduate students in Creative Writing?
Hunter: Fail, fail better. Take risks. Remember that rejection makes you stronger.
Jacobsen: Whom do you consider your biggest influences? Could you recommend any seminal or important books/poems by them?
Hunter: I think the first time I felt as a reader that I was in the hands of a master writer was reading the Irish writer Dermot Healy. He’s widely considered a writer’s writer because you can marvel at his craft even as you’re set adrift in his narrative or poetic worlds. I especially love A Goat’s Song which is a novel and What The Hammer (poems) but all of his work has taught me something, and he innovates every time when a lot of writers would be content to repeat their successes. Anne Carson, Jan Zwicky and Carolyn Forché (all poets) make me think ‘why bother’ – they’ve already said so much so perfectly – but they also inspire me to keep at it. Alice Munro inspires me on numerous levels. It’s not that I want to write like her but I am in awe of her craft and her tenacity. She makes me aspire to be a better writer, to try to be great at it.
Jacobsen: What poem has most influenced you?
Hunter: TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. I don’t actually have an academic’s handling of it, but it sends me off in a new direction with every reading and I think his thinking about time in it is perfectly complex: ‘Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past…’. It’s directly influenced a lot of my work.
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